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The Console MMO's Are Coming – Part Two


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The Console MMO's Are Coming – Part Two

In part 1 of this article, we examined Star Trek Online, The Agency and Age of Conan, three MMO's likely destined for either the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, or both at some point in the future.

This week we look at a few more games almost definitely hitting the consoles within a year, and along the way we discuss what it is that makes each of these games a good fit for the platforms they'll be coming to.

Free Realms:

Developer: Sony Online Entertainment

Release Date: 2010

What is it? There's a new wave of massively multiplayer online games, a seemingly inexorable march towards the free to play model.

It's a system that has seen great success in Korea and in Eastern MMO gaming in general, yet hasn't really been embraced or exploited in the West. Sony Online Entertainment is at the forefront of a vigorous push to change that way of thinking, and bring gamers in the West quality games on a free to play model.

For a long time the standing model of the monthly pay to play fee has gone unchallenged. Ultima Online, Everquest, Everquest II, World of Warcraft, Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, all these games and many more have been run successfully on this model. But is it sustainable in the long term?

There are two strong arguments running against the pay to play model. The first would be that the market can only support a finite number of these kinds of games. Gamers only have so much disposable income to burn on their hobby, and at an average price of $14.99 USD a month, most gamers can only really justify paying for one or two subscriptions at any given time.

One of the upsides of this environment is that it breeds competition, and any MMO charging a monthly rate needs to reach a certain standard if it wants to survive. The downside as I've mentioned, is that it means gamers get a smaller pool of games to choose from as fewer publishers are willing to take the risk of crashing and burning in the spectacular manner of Richard Garriot's Tabula Rasa.

The second argument against pay to play games, specifically on consoles, is that console gamers just aren't conditioned to pay a monthly fee to play games; some might argue that they'll never be. It's simply a concept that's alien to them.

Enter Sony Online Entertainment's new MMO strategy, which involves a lineup of high quality free to play games, starting with Free Realms.

For the longest time, when most gamers heard the phrase free to play, it more than likely conjured up images of obscure, poorly localized Korean efforts built less around actual constructive gameplay, and more around an eternal process of grinding and limited play options forcing you to purchase items to experience core gameplay. Not anymore.

Free Realms was built specifically from the ground up to be accessible to gamers of all ages, and to be a quality experience that makes a positive first impression.

In terms of pure polish, the game rivals many of its pay to play contemporaries and probably bests most.

Another thing that makes Free Realms such a great example for the free to play model is that unlike most games that pursue the same model, you're never forced to actually buy anything to enjoy the core game. Any expenses you make are incidental and will only add to the experience.

Chances of it happening: Barring a sudden and major failure in the Free Realms business model, this one's an absolute and definite lock. While SOE seems to be taking their time porting Free Realms to the PlayStation 3, expect it to hit some time in mid to late 2010, by which time it's conceivable the console would have benefited from yet another price cut, making it an even more viable offering for the family audience Free Realms has proven itself so attractive to.

DC Universe Online:

Developer: Sony Online Entertainment

Release Date: 2010

What is it? By all accounts the Xbox 360 should already be home to a superhero MMO in the form of Marvel Universe Online, a game that was in development at Cryptic Studios (developer of Champions Online, City of Heroes/Villains, and the Star Trek Online) before Microsoft quietly halted production and killed the project.

Meanwhile, Sony Online Entertainment had been quietly working on their own superhero MMO, utilizing rival comic book publisher’s license, DC Comics.

Despite initially looking a little rough around the edges, newer hands-on previews and showings at recent trade shows have indicated that DC Universe Online is coming together well.

You won't be able to choose a Batman or Superman, but you'll be able to create your own unique superhero and inhabit the same world as the blue wonder and the caped crusader, fighting alongside them to keep the streets safe. So far we've seen screenshots and images of the game's Metropolis location, but concept art seen earlier indicates that areas like Gotham City (including The Batcave and Arkham Asylum) will be available for players to explore.

The DC license is potentially a very lucrative one, and SOE seem intent on not letting things slip through their fingers as you could argue happened with Star Wars Galaxies. As a result they're collaborating with top talent in the comic book industry, including design veterans from DC's Wildstorm imprint, led by comic book legend Jim Lee (on board as Executive Creative Director), and writers Geoff John's and Marv Wolfman, of Justice Society of America, and Crisis on Infinite Earth's fame.

In terms of minute to minute gameplay, expect something in the vein of Prototype, InFamous, or The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, with emphasis placed on fast paced action and quick environmental traversal, including flight, super speed, etc.

Special moves and attacks will be mapped to actual button presses as in games like Marvel Ultimate Alliance and X-Men Legends, rather than the combat queues seen in games like World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online, leading to a more action oriented, skill-based experience. That said, the game won't be discarding RPG conventions entirely, as there will be leveling and inventory management systems in place.

Sony Online Entertainment have also been smart enough to hint that the monthly subscription fee model is one they won't be using for DCUO, and given the game's console ambitions, it would seem a wise choice.

Chances of it happening: Like SOE's other in-development PlayStation 3 MMO, perhaps even more so given the target console's demographics, this is also a lock. DC Universe Online appears almost tailor made for consoles, with its action RPG-esque gameplay and popular license. All signs point towards a 2010 release.

Final Fantasy XIV:

Developer: Square Enix

Release Date: 2010

What is it? The Final Fantasy series really needs little introduction. Sids, Chocobo's, Moogles, limit breaks, summons, we're familiar with all the series conventions. That said, Final Fantasy XIV is something else altogether.

In May 2002, Square Enix launched Final Fantasy XI for the PlayStation 2 and PC in Japan, a North American release would follow two years later, and two years after that, in 2006, the Final Fantasy series would come to an Xbox platform for the first time when the MMO found its way to Microsoft's Xbox 360.

Despite achieving a modest level of success, particularly in Japan where it's the countries most played massively multiplayer online game, it's probably safe to say Final Fantasy XI never quite made the impression many had hoped, as it's un-Final Fantasy-like look, and brutal solo gameplay turned off many long time fans.

Seven years after its initial release, and Square Enix is ready to do it all again, as it prepares to release only its second ever MMO, Final Fantasy XIV.

Though it may look similar on the surface, Square Enix appears to be wringing the changes, with a spate of revamped systems designed to make the game easier for new players to get into, and also make solo questing considerably more enjoyable for those interested.

There are also revamped job and battle systems to keep things fresh and in general the developers seem to have paid attention to the advancements made in the genre over the last five years or so.

At E3 this year, Sony's Jack Tretton made a big deal about Final Fantasy XIV and its exclusivity on the PlayStation 3, words which have come under some scrutiny since it has been revealed that no such exclusivity agreement exists, and that the main stumbling block preventing an Xbox 360 release comes in the form of Microsoft's Xbox Live policies.

One can't help thinking that Final Fantasy XIV's best chance for success exists on consoles, while it enjoys a dedicated following on PC, the market there is fairly congested, with the likes of World of Warcraft, Age of Conan et al all vying for attention. The console battleground by comparison, is much less crowded.

Chances of it happening: Final Fantasy is simply too big a series to remain constrained to the PC, a PlayStation 3 release is a given. Will the game make it to the Xbox 360? If Microsoft is truly serious about challenging the PlayStation 3 in Japan, this could be seen as one of the pre-requisites, whether they'll be willing to loosen their stringent Xbox Live policies as they did when they made an exception to get Final Fantasy XI on the console remains to be seen.

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